Safe City Campaign Uganda
The Safe City Campaign was set up by International Alert as a direct response to the growing misunderstanding between Uganda's business community and government authorities. For years, the business community in Uganda (especially in the capital Kampala) had been facing numerous issues including: destruction of property from mobs, petty and large-scale theft, harassment from tax officials, and a general lack of order in the city caused mainly by political rallies being held in town centers. Businesses were losing out as a result and this was creating a rift between them and city authorities.
Bearing this in mind, Alert's campaign set out to emphasize the link between the economy and peace building. It sought to showcase businesses and local authorities as agents of peace.
Using a combination of dialogue, mediation, and research, Alert created favorable spaces for the parties to amicably discuss and address their differences.
The overarching objective is to “promote awareness of the role of businesses local authorities as agents of peace in Uganda."
1. Improving relations between the community and local authorities mainly the police who for a long time were viewed as agents of the regime, anti-business, and thus a force to be fought.
2. Support and promote proactive engagement on the part of business people in pursuing a peace-building goal at both local and national levels.
3. Mobilize businesses to understand the role of local authorities in creating a favorable working environment, including effective utilization of tax proceeds.
HOW THE OBJECTIVES WERE ACHIEVED
Before the campaign was launched in January 2013, the relationship between city authorities and business people had deteriorated. Businesses accused city authorities of failing to control mobs in the city. In the capital Kampala, businesses accused the city council authorities of failing to effectively address the issue of hawkers (who were selling all their merchandise out on the street as opposed to renting shops) and in so doing, undercutting shop owners. Today, hawkers have been removed off the streets of all the major towns in Uganda.
Before the campaign started, there were so many cases of some business men delivering "rough justice" to fellow business persons who were refusing to honor agreements. There were cases of people lending as much as 1 million dollar to friends with no written agreements. And when borrowers refused to pay, lenders would hire friends to "teach them a lesson". Today, traders are using lawyers and mediation is favored instead of rough justice.
The campaign has seen a steady improvement in relations between the police and not only business persons but also members of the general public - something that was previously not the case. In the past, the police were viewed as biased and everyone hated them. However, by inviting the police to speak at some of the campaign rallies, the communities are beginning to understand them better and this is helping improve relations.
Part of what the campaign has done is encourage monthly meetings between city authorities and business people. These meetings are attended by the police and have become key in keeping law and order. For example in one meeting the people agreed to suspend the holding of political rallies in towns. It's been a success.
As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest successes of the campaign has been the improvement in relations between communities and local authorities, particularly the police and revenue correctors. Whereas officials from the Uganda Revenue Authority were seen as "scroungers and good for nothing corrupt pigs", the relationship has improved with the campaign. Businesses have been able to have discussions with revenue officers on what their taxes are being used for and as a result, they are more willing to pay the licences and due taxes.
The suspension of holding rallies in city centers (a suggestion that was supported by over 90 percent of traders and members of the public) has meant that disruptions to businesses are currently limited and near to zero. As a result member of the public can feel free to come to town centers and shop without any disruptions, businesses can make money by trading, and local authorities are able to correct their due taxes without impediments.
One of the biggest challenges has been the fact that because the campaign is part of a time bound project, its sustainability depends largely on how long the project will go for. There is a worry that when the project finally comes to an end, the initiative will go with it.
Part of the campaign has also seen members of the community come up to willingly work with the police and local authorities in identifying those who are perceived as security threats. This idea of community neighbourhood watch, while it is working, risks being used by some to incorrectly report on those they might perceive as competitors. So far, the campaign has not had to deal with such a case but there is always the danger that this might become a big issue in the future.
The campaign has demonstrated that everyone is and can be an agent of peace. It has shown that no difference/misunderstanding is unsolvable as long as there is a will and the right environment has been created.
There was a time, four years ago when relations between local authorities and businesspersons in Uganda were so low that chaos was rampant. Indigenous Ugandan businessmen started blaming foreign investors and at some point a few Indian traders were attacked. The absence of a mechanism to solve grievances particularly those relating to unpaid loans were becoming commonplace and the tendency to administer rough justice on perceived transgressors rampant. This was dangerous and everyone was getting worried. With the campaign, particularly the mediation aspect of the campaign, business men and women are now aware of the need to enter contracts, and where differences emerge, they are solved amicably through the courts or through elders as part of mediation.